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Industry Challenge: Addressing Mental Health Issues on Campus

By Robert Steadman, Region Director of Training and Development, Securitas Security Services USA

Typically, for most college students, their tenure at university is their first prolonged stretch of “real” independence. With this often–sought-for independence also comes a variety of “stressors” that they must contend with daily. Among these are: adaptation to a new social structure (one in which they are now at entry level), intense academic pressure, reduced familial support, campus activity obligations, the struggle to find balance in nutrition, exercise, workload and a newly broadened social life—all condensed typically to campuses as microcosms of the areas in which they are located.

Simply factoring the financial pressures of tuition, fees, and housing, it is far easier to see why college students seem to be more prone to anxiety and depression; the rates of diagnoses for both conditions have been rising steadily in recent years. Immediate answers? We ought to embrace and champion as our responsibility as campus faculty and personnel the proactive philosophical spirit of in loco parentis, in order to assist those in need, offer support, and facilitate services to those who lack direction at what may be a critical juncture in their life. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) has produced data indicating that these issues are becoming more prevalent, as illustrated in the graphs below:

Campus law enforcement, public safety, and security professionals should be considered as personnel who share in the inherent mission of proactively nurturing students.

While we are often viewed through lenses of compliance and confrontation, isn’t it OUR responsibility to “own” the image we choose to project to the campus community and to take the necessary steps to form a positive outreach image of a support resource?

One that students can not only feel comfortable with but comfortable reaching out to? Given the stakes at risk in our protective environments, this Industry Challenge is imperative if we intend to gain any meaningful ground with the students we serve. We must look introspectively to our image, our policies, and how we “bridge” the student body if we are going to attempt to achieve meaningful results in our communities. By becoming an integral component of student life via a universally holistic service approach, the student life experience can only improve.

If we are to assist, even in the most remote capacity, we must first understand the problem we are addressing. During the 2019 Industry Challenge, it is important that we discuss different avenues of education that we are utilizing to better understand the very issues we intend to resolve. As an eclectic group of colleges and universities, we all embrace different methodologies when it comes to educating our staff to the sensitive issues of mental health. Sharing these options with each other will broaden our resources while addressing common hurdles.

The CCMH has determined with rather extensive data sets that nearly a third of all universities polled did not have any psychiatric services available for students.

In addition to external training opportunities, it would be very useful to discuss our relationships with internal campus assistance/counseling centers, if available. Most college administrations strive to safeguard and develop productive internal measures to provide care for those struggling with mental health issues. The closer we can partner with these groups, the more likely we will be able to help a student in need, both effectively and efficiently. As with all people, the needs of mental health support among students also vary greatly. Maintaining Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) boundaries and communicating with professionals on campus, we are better able to understand the trending concerns of the students and perhaps become better equipped to help address those concerns. Recent polling conducted by the CCMH shows that students are likely to report the following issues more frequently or address these issues as their top concerns:

When encountering individuals with mental health issues, it is often a reality that drugs and or alcohol played a role as either a catalyst or as self-medication. I believe a cautious investigation into the contributing role these substances play is an absolute necessity when we address these topics at the Industry Challenge.  We should speak candidly about our procedural responses to those we witness using these substances to inappropriately cope with issues that we know can be appropriately addressed through professional intervention. While campus alcohol consumption is always a concern, it is especially noteworthy when it is a direct response to a person dealing with stress or depression, as the implications that result compound greatly. Another data set from CMMH (below) helps to illustrate that approximately 10% of men and women—a truly remarkable number—abuse alcohol 3–5 times in a two-week period.

Often those who do receive professional help end up receiving medication to assist them with their condition. While this kind of intervention is deemed necessary, it can also lead to prescription drugs being shared between students who either self-diagnose or diagnose others with their condition by proxy. While these activities are unquestionably unlawful, of course, we have a responsibility to stop these types of behaviors. But doesn’t that also extend to addressing the root causes for the behaviors? Whether they stem from lack of general awareness, scarce campus resources, or misinformation among students, the reason for the behaviors are a great discussion point. Moreover, our attempts to nullify these efforts raise an even more serious discussion that could help contribute to better policy.

As we are so intricately woven into the fabric of campus life, we are not unfamiliar with the fact that so many of these issues seem to happen frequently. Course registration, midterms, finals, and other specific events can trigger increased stress or anxiety among the student body. Since we are able to recognize these triggers, it is only logical that we prepare and develop a response to them. By sharing possible resolutions to these commonalities, we can better mitigate these types of stress-inducing timelines before they happen. The Industry Challenge will be a proper forum where we can ensure best practices are being shared and help support each other in assisting to ensure obligations, both policy and ethical, are being met.

SOURCE: Locke, Ben Ph.D., and Ashley Stauffer Ph. D. "Center for Collegiate Mental Health” (2015): Page(s).1-40 Penn State



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